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Radon Poisoning in Children

Radon Poisoning in Children

Due to the lack of scientific data, it has not yet been proved if children are at a higher risk of getting affected by radon poisoning than adults. However, awareness about its effects in children, is essential in order to take precautionary measures. This write-up will present some more information regarding it.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
According to reports, radon poisoning causes more number of deaths in the US than exposure to the toxic household cleaners and lead paints. It causes approximately 20,000 deaths in the United States annually, and is now becoming a major concern for every homeowner. Generally, it is a result of radioactivity from the chemical uranium that is found in various sources such as soil, underground earth, and rocks.

Information about Radon
It is basically a radioactive gas that comes out from the soil (especially granite) and is produced by the decay of uranium that exists in the earth. It seeps into our homes through the cracks in the foundation and gets trapped indoors, if the ventilation system is not good. It can seep through the basement of the house and underground water pipes. It is a major contributor of ionizing source of radiation that affects the general population. Radon poisoning is a condition that affects an individual who inhales this gas. When inhaled, it leads to the decay of two extremely short-lived products of radon, called Polonium - 218 ( 218Po) and Polonium - 214 ( 214Po). These two products combine with the biological system of our body and prove to be fatal.

The properties of this gas are as follows
  • It is an inert gas with the chemical symbol 'Rn' and its atomic mass unit is 222 and its atomic number is 86.
  • It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, which makes it extremely difficult to detect.
  • It is part of the uranium decay chain, wherein uranium decay results in the formation of radium, the predecessor of Radon.
  • Its half-life is 3.8 days (Half-life is the time required for a radioactive substance to decrease by half of its original amount).
Extensive research carried out by medical experts and reports by WHO suggest that, radon exposure in homes increases the chances of lung cancer. Approximately 4% to 15% of the lung cancer cases have been directly or indirectly linked to it. In children, it is rather limited, however, the ill-effects can't be completely denied. Studies have shown that they are more susceptible to it due to the less developed immune system and the differences in breathing patterns from adults. Indoor poisoning poses the biggest threat to the children as they spend nearly 70% of their time at home. Since it disrupts the functioning of the DNA and causes lung cancer in later stages of life, exposure to it for long periods can increase the risk of lung cancer.

Effects of Poisoning
Exposure to radon is the primary reason for lung cancer in non-smoking population. Though in the early stages of exposure, it does not show any signs of skin irritation or poisoning, the long-term exposure leads to some respiratory problems like emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis. Some effects like interfering with the DNA of the body and chromosomal aberrations have also been found in acute cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has enacted various laws for the builders and homeowners, so that the risk of exposure is reduced to minimum possible levels. Poison-resistant techniques are employed in the construction of buildings and improved ventilation systems are mandatory in every house. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the WHO suggest testing techniques to check for the same. Citizens all over the US are encouraged to take precautions while constructing their homes, to avoid lethal threats.

In children, it poses the threat of chronic lung diseases. Just because there is not enough medical evidence to suggest such cases, it does not mean that we avoid taking precautions. The test for its presence in homes is an inexpensive one and every homeowner must surely get the testing done by experts. Levels more than 4pC/L (picocuries per liter) are considered dangerous. Its prevention is much easier if the precautionary measures are adopted properly.

Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.